Fun fact: Aquariums are a common headache for Wi-Fi networks, because Wi-Fi signals have a tough time passing through water. Same goes for people, since our bodies are largely made of water, too — and that means that we cause telltale interference whenever we walk through a Wi-Fi network.
High-end Linksys routers can use those spectral disturbances to detect motion and send an alert to your phone — and now, at CES 2021, Linksys is bringing the feature to a new Linksys Velop mesh router that supports Wi-Fi 6E, a new designation for top-of-the-line wireless devices capable of sending signals on the 6GHz band.
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Called the Linksys AXE8400 and expected to launch this summer, the tri-band router is set to join the Velop line of mesh systems, where it’ll sell at $450 for a single device, $850 for a 2-pack with a router and extender, or $1,200 for a router with two extenders. That’ll easily make it one of the most expensive mesh routers on the market — roughly $200 more than you’d spend for the fastest, highest-performing mesh router we’ve tested, the AX6000 version of Netgear Orbi.
Like that system, the AXE8400 uses the latest generation of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 6, to ensure fast, efficient performance, but the addition of Wi-Fi 6E support means that it can also send signals in the 6GHz band, which the FCC just opened for unlicensed Wi-Fi use in 2020. With more than twice as much bandwidth as the 5GHz band — and no interference from existing, earlier-gen Wi-Fi devices — 6GHz is like a shiny new multi-lane expressway with room for lots of traffic, and Wi-Fi 6E routers like the AXE8400 have a ticket to ride.
Of course, there are virtually no phones, laptops or other client devices that support Wi-Fi 6E at this point, but we expect that to change in the coming year. Even without them, your home network will benefit from a multi-piece Wi-Fi 6E mesh setup, because the router and its satellite nodes will all be able to pass data back and forth on that luxurious 6GHz band. Whether or not it’s enough of a benefit by this summer to be worth the steep premium remains to be seen.
Spec-wise, the AXE8400 features a tri-band design capable of 4X4 MU-MIMO connections on either the 2.4, 5 or 6GHz bands. Top theoretical transfer speeds on that 6GHz band are listed at 4.8 Gbps, compared to 2.4 and 1.2Gbps on the 5 and 2.4GHz bands, respectively. The router runs on a 2.2GHz quad-core processor, it features a WAN port that supports incoming wired speeds of up to 5 Gbps, and it promises up to 3,000 square feet of range per node. All of that fits the bill for a premium mesh router in 2021.
As for the Linksys Aware motion sensitivity, it costs an extra $3 per month or $25 per year. You’ll be able to manage it via the Linksys app, where you can fine-tune the sensitivity to specific, fixed-location Wi-Fi devices on your network and set alerts on your phone for whenever the router detects motion-based interference with them. You can also track up to 60 days of past motion events, giving you a wily glimpse at when, exactly, your teenager sneaked out the other month, or when your spouse tiptoed into the kitchen for a midnight snack last week. That’s where Linksys Aware stops, though — the feature can’t be used to trigger your smart lights, your home security system, or any other connected devices.
I honestly haven’t had the opportunity to test it out yet, but the use-cases certainly have my curiosity piqued. I’m also interested to know if Linksys stores that location alert data locally or if it gets uploaded to the company’s servers. Linksys doesn’t specify on the Linksys Aware Q&A page, though the company fairly notes that the feature might make for a more privacy-minded approach to home monitoring than rigging cameras and other sensors throughout your home.
At any rate, the AXE8400 sits high on the list of new Wi-Fi 6E hardware that I’ll be excited to test out in 2021, right alongside other new Wi-Fi 6E routers from names like Netgear and TP-Link. When the time comes to put it through its paces, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes, and whether or not this next-gen networking hardware lives up to the price tag. At $850 for a 2-piece setup (and you’ll need at least two devices in order to use the Linksys Aware feature), there isn’t much room for error.